TARPON SPRINGS — For some, October conjures up visions of apparitions and spirits.
For others, music comes to mind — like the Clearwater Jazz Holiday this weekend and in this community, the 15th Annual Outdoor Music Festival by the Tarpon Springs High School Leadership Conservatory for the Arts. The festival starts at 2 p.m. today.
Festival spectators will experience both the sounds and a bit of the supernatural of October as the Tarpon Springs Ensemble, a.k.a. the school's award-winning marching band, performs Paranormal: Phenomena That Cannot Be Explained.
The field will transform into a theater of sorts as the ensemble presents a visual, musical and theatrical performance that encompasses all the arts. It was composed by Kevin M. Ford, the band's director, and Frank Sullivan, Ford's partner in a venture called Inspire Entertainment Productions, which does productions for high school bands.
Paranormal may be unlike anything people have seen before from a marching band.
"Gone are the days when bands can play their instruments and march in formation," Ford said. "In the students' movement, we created a modern movement vocabulary, similar to what you'd see in a ballet. The movements support the abstract title."
Movements like levitation.
Doors opening and slamming shut on the field.
Torsos of woodwind players snapping one way as they play and hold their instruments at 45-degree angles.
Dramatic moves by the color guard dressed in ethereal costumes evoking the feel of ghosts and spirits.
As the band practiced its choreography and music on the football field Thursday morning, Ford repeatedly said, "Reset, do it again." Which led band members to snap back into position.
"What we try to do is erase the line of sections within the band," Ford said. "When you watch the performance, we don't want you to see the flutes and the clarinets, the trumpets, the saxes. We want you to see 144 performers."
Attention to detail, dedication to art and a commitment to personal excellence is why the band holds an elite status among marching bands, according to Ford.
In 2008, the band earned the Sudler Shield award, considered the highest accolade a high school marching band can achieve. In 2009, the band was named grand champion of the Bands of America Southeastern Super Regional Championship in Atlanta.
"They put in so much effort," said Sandra Brennan, publicity director of the Tarpon Springs Band Boosters. "It's a leadership program that teaches life skills. It's not just about band. The program teaches students how to be successful in life."
Band president Joey Velez, 17, plays clarinet in the ensemble.
"The festival is an awesome opportunity to show people what we're doing and to see what others are working on," said Velez, a senior from Palm Harbor. "It gives up a sense of community in the music world."
Irene Pastis is a senior and fourth-year band member.
"Being here gives you an opportunity to show who you really are and to be with your friends," said Pastis, 16, of Tarpon Springs. "It also gives us a chance to travel places we might not get to go otherwise."
Like Atlanta, where the band will compete again this year. And while the band won grand champion there last year, it also took on a responsibility directly related to that trip.
"We found out Matt Hodge, a tenor on the drum line of Page High School in Tennessee, had been hit by a train," said Benjamin Longhofer, 16, of Tarpon Springs. "His band was trying to support the Hodges family. We collectively raised $2,000 and delivered the check."
This year, Page High School will perform at the festival. So will several bands from Tampa Bay and South and Central Florida. Herd of Thunder, the University of South Florida's marching band, will take the field in an exhibition performance.
"The opportunity to perform for thousands of people who may not have the chance to see us at a Bulls football game is tremendously exciting," said Matthew McCutchen, director of athletic bands at USF. "We love performing for our football fans, and are looking forward to playing for people who are gathered for the sole purpose of celebrating the art of marching band."
Taurean Mathis, a school resource officer at Tarpon Springs for the past two years, has a real world connection to the festival. He played baritone horn from 1998 to 2002.
"The band helped give me a foundation for life," Mathis said. "It taught me how to be a leader, not just as a musician, but as a productive citizen of society."
Mathis has enjoyed seeing the program's growth since he graduated. Last year, more than 5,000 spectators filled the stands.
"The Tarpon Springs Festival has long been recognized as one of the finest marching band events in the Tampa Bay area," McCutcheon said, "and this year's competing bands represent some of the best ensembles in the state."